A Roadmap pairing research and technology to help teens forge a pathway that aligns with their personality, goals, and attributes

Dr. Travis Dorsch.

In my role as a university professor, the question I see at the front of most students’ minds is: “what path is right for me?” Undoubtedly, this question can be traced back to the earliest stages of symbolic play, when children begin to ponder whether they want to become an astronaut, firefighter, doctor, professional athlete, or master of some other aspirational domain. We do our best as adults to confirm the ideal that children can become anything they want. As children grow and learn and are exposed to more worldly experiences, this idealism is often replaced – or at least shaped  – by pragmatism. Many children learn that some dream jobs are out of reach while others lack the functional knowledge to even know that some careers exist. In many cases, children don’t have knowledge of or access to the right preparation pathways to even start planning appropriately. The root problem seems to be that the process of finding a career is largely uninformed by evidence-based principles. Instead, young people’s aspirational pursuits seem to be guided by dreams, knowledge, access, and reactivity to opportunity.

Working on spotivity, Montana and I, along with the team around us, have created a proprietary machine-learning recommendation tool to match teens with after-school programs that help facilitate desired academic majors and career trajectories. Why meddle in a social space that has always been thought to self-organize? Simple. Our research suggests that more than half of the 40 million American children between the ages of 13-17 aren’t engaged in an after-school activity and that those who are aren’t always thinking about how those activities might facilitate college or career opportunities. The functional breakdown of a young person’s activity-to-academic major and academic major-to-career trajectory is reasonable when the right questions are asked and the right methods used to weight the most important inputs and outputs. To date, no one has attempted this in a scientifically rigorous and verifiable manner. spotivity’s stated goal is to get “more teens in more programs more of the time.” The industry opportunity lies in the “Pocket Genie,” wherein users gain insight into a localized menu of after-school programs, a broad selection of potential academic majors, and aspirational career trajectories that align with their personality, academic aptitude, life goals, and other factors.

Why should teens, students, families, high schools, and universities care? spotivity’s Genie is a guidance counselor of sorts – whose primary function is to provide an actionable pathway for students to consider. It is purposefully designed to account for and leverage their personal strengths while providing strategies for addressing personal weaknesses and helping the student leverage structural systems that can facilitate upward personal, academic, and social mobility. Although spotivity has the potential to scale globally, its beauty rests at the level of the individual user – specifically, through their introduction to potentially unknown after-school activities, academic majors, and the most appropriate and rewarding career pathways.

In the educational world, it is widely understood that the earlier a child engages in formative experiences, the quicker they will master requisite skillsets that afford success later in life.  However, the pressure on teens to constantly make forward-thinking decisions, oftentimes alone, is immense. Significant others in the family, community, and educational ecosystems often feel, or are, uninformed in the process. Moreover, they can be ignorant of the potential ripple effects on lives and society when their loved one finds the “right” career pathway. spotivity’s Genie is a tool that carries massive potential to help teens and those around them find and pursue the best fitting after-school programs, academic majors, and career pathways. This may seem like an esoteric academic exercise; however, the real-world ramifications are quite significant. Students will accomplish more in settings where their traits are aligned with outcomes, Higher Education will see better alignment between the student body, career counseling, and academic majors, and the job market will ultimately have an aligned workforce that results in higher job satisfaction and work production – all the while, an individual will reap the benefit of life-long synergy between purpose and outcomes. These facts are especially important for those struggling to ladder up in an ever-more educated populace. Indeed, a move from the 10th percentile of wage earners in the United States to the median represents a 600% increase in salary-based wealth!

To illustrate how spotivity’s Genie works, let’s examine a 15-year-old Chicago teen who wants to become an astronaut. This is a rather audacious goal, given at the time of this writing that only 562 humans have left the earth’s atmosphere and just 24 of those have circled, orbited, or walked on the moon (a number since changed thanks to the proliferation of recent Space Tourism). Nonetheless, in pursuing this goal, our teen can use spotivity, without cost, to find and select after-school programs that foster intellectual curiosity around avionics, STEM, problem-solving, and survivalism. In addition, the machine-learning algorithm will consider what undergraduate and advanced degrees astronauts have historically pursued, the best universities and departments from which to obtain those degrees, the easiest ways to get into these colleges or universities, and the personal attributes and expertise of past astronauts. In addition to these known (and somewhat static) factors, spotivity’s Genie will also account for dynamic user inputs such as the teen’s personality profile, academic record, family characteristics, and personal preferences (in-state versus out-of-state institution, campus size, tuition costs, urban or suburban setting, etc). Considering this wide range of factors positions the Genie to complement the humanistic work already being done by traditional (overworked!) guidance counselors in high schools and on college and university campuses. Moreover, it consolidates and streamlines the efforts of engaged students and families who are being proactive about academic major and career decision-making. The Genie is a tool that gives teens informed recommendations. It is not deterministic in its prescription of activities, academic majors, or careers. Rather, its core value lies in its ability to arm teens, and those who guide them, with actionable information that offers them the best chance at achieving their goals!

As a four-sport high school athlete, I was fortunate to earn multiple scholarship offers from prestigious colleges and universities across the country, ultimately settling on Purdue University. In retrospect, I acknowledge that I likely would not have gotten into such a top-tier university had it not been for athletics and the access being an athlete provided during the recruiting and admission process. During my time on campus, I came face-to-face with larger peer groups that held very different understandings of access. Indeed, the support, opportunity, and perqs that came with being a student-athlete was not the “reality” most students were experiencing. In the years since, my life pathway has been a direct result of my experiences at Purdue. All of my adult pursuits were, in some meaningful way, affected by my decision (and opportunity!) to enroll at such an esteemed institution. I was fortunate. Not all are. And that is where spotivity comes in. So, it’s time to let the Genie out of the bottle to help all teens forge their pathway to a better life!  

A young high school Travis

About Travis

Dr. Travis Dorsch is an Associate Professor and Founding Director of the Families in Sport Lab in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies at Utah State University. A former NFL player, Dr. Dorsch’s research targets the persons and contexts that have the potential to influence or be influenced by athletes’ behaviors, attitudes, experiences, and outcomes in youth sport. Dr. Dorsch is a former member of the national science board for the President’s Council on Sports, Fitness, & Nutrition and a current research fellow for the U.S. Center for Mental Health & Sport.

About Spotivity

Be #neverbored again by using the spotivity app and find activities that fit your needs.  We help you find programing that can lead to your passion.  Whether that is an art program to practice graffiti, a sports program to engage in competition, an education support class to improve your grades, or just finding someone to talk to – spotivity has your back.  Backed by research and continually informed by users, spotivity is the tool to help you unlock your world and expand the list of options you can take advantage of.  

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